Image: Restaurant Depot/Facebook

A site plan application from the owners of the former Walmart shopping center slated for a Restaurant Depot store came before the Riverhead Planning Board for a public hearing Thursday night.

The application seeks approvals to renovate and improve the building where a little more than half of the 120,000-square-foot Route 58 commercial space will be occupied by the food service supplier.

The site improvements proposed for the building — vacant since Walmart moved out in 2014 for new space in Gateway Plaza, opposite Tanger Outlets on Route 58 — includes the removal of an existing outdoor garden center sales area, the construction of a five-bay truck loading dock on the southeast corner of the building, the installation of retaining and sound attenuating walls, the installation of new electrical infrastructure, façade improvements, landscaping improvements, updated site lighting, and renovation of existing asphalt pavement.

The application was made by the owners of the Riverhead Plaza Shopping Center, Riverhead PGC LLC, a subsidiary of Philips International Holding Corp. 

Restaurant Depot announced in November it entered a 15-year lease to fill the space. The business has more than 130 stores across the United States and sells food, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, equipment and supplies to member restaurants and bars. The closest Restaurant Depot is located in Bohemia.

[See prior coverage: Restaurant Depot inks lease for more than 65,000 square feet of space at former Walmart location]

The applicant’s representatives and project engineers, as well as Restaurant Depot representatives, spoke about the positive impacts the new tenant would have on the town.

Larry Cohen, Restaurant Depot’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said the addition of the store will help nearby small businesses.

“Something we like to brag about is when many large retailers open up in an area there is a by-product that many small businesses go out of business,” Cohen said. “Something different about the Restaurant Depot is, when we open in an area, we support the small business community, we support the small independent restaurants and we found that not only do they survive, they often thrive,” he said.

Philips International’s Director of Construction and Development William Kugelman said the leasing team has been “aggressively marketing” the site over the years and have “spoken to practically every major retailer, entertainment operator, theater operator, distribution centers such as an Amazon and medical facilities, as well as exploring other options for the building, such as workforce housing and senior housing.” The company negotiated with Regal Cinemas to site a multiplex movie theater at the site and even presented preliminary drawings to the planning board, but Regal pulled out due to “internal issues,” Kugelman said.

[See prior coverage: “Regal Cinemas theater on Rt. 58 moving forward; site owner expects to sign lease”]

“This is a turning point forward to once again create a thriving local community shopping center, which will help and secure another co-anchor for the center, helping existing smaller tenants succeed and ultimately, we believe, the goal of the community and the Town of Riverhead,” Kugelman said.

A concern of Planning Board members voiced at an earlier meeting was the potential noise impacts that the new loading dock activities might generate. Riverhead Planner Greg Bergman said staff has discussed sound-related concerns with the applicant. 

[See prior coverage: Planners review Restaurant Depot site plan]

“The applicants have contracted with a sound engineer and they did provide a sound report to the Planning Board,” Bergman said. “Out of that report came the recommendations for the sound walls and some of the sound attenuation from the mechanicals up on the roof, as well as the refrigeration units.”

The Planning Board heard from two residents during Thursday’s hearing.

Tom Najdzion, who lives just west of the shopping center on Ostrander Avenue, said he welcomes the new business coming into town, but has concerns about traffic coming out of the shopping center.

“We don’t know what traffic-wise is going to be coming out of that parking lot,” Najdzion said. “That’s going to add to the chaos that’s already on our street we already have since the BJ’s gas station opened” at the corner of Route 58 and Ostrander Avenue. So I’d be interested to see what traffic study is going to come out of this and see what happens with that.”

[See prior coverage: “Residents frustrated with traffic jams at gas station”]

Rich Mazeski, who lives on Kings Drive, directly south of the shopping center, expressed concerns about noise trucks pulling into the shopping center would produce. He also expressed concerns about the effect it would have on his property.

“If you’re going to have all these trucks going through one way, I’m not going to be a happy camper,” he said.

Andrew Kelly of project architects VHB said the noise levels shown in the study produced by the firm “are very conservative in the worst case scenario” and said the site plan includes a new solid fence to be installed along the southern property line “which would provide a new visual barrier from those neighboring properties beyond the existing chain link fence there today.”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com